We’ve already been hearing that the poor form of Liverpool, Chelsea and Man U (at least in the first half of the season) has been a major factor in why Arsenal are flying so high. In an ostensibly “normal’ season, this line of what we’ll generously call thinking asserts that we’d never be in first if those three giants were playing at anything close to “normal” levels. It’s 2015-16 all over again, except we’re playing Leicester’s role as the plucky underdog Cinderella dark horse coming out of nowhere to shock the big boys; and Man City are playing, well, our role as one the Prem’s biggest and best clubs. Fine. Sure. Now that the Prem has charged them with a total of 113 breaches of financial rules, it won’t be long before the chattering classes use this as a cudgel to downplay our progress.
If the (previously) unthinkable happens and we win the Prem, the critics will undoubtedly point to the announcement of these charges as the distraction that prevented Man City from reeling us in. It’s unlikely that the investigation will end before the season does, so we won’t see Man City get docked points or get expelled, but the investigation and accompanying pressure will certainly get re-cast as their excuse for faltering in the second half of the season. “How could they play to their full potential with the Prem’s investigation looming over them? You can see it in the players’ faces, in their body language. Why play to their fullest if a points deduction will wipe out anything they do achieve? These players shouldn’t be punished like that; most of them weren’t even at the club during the time in question. Anyway, this really diminishes Arsenal’s achievements. Can anyone say that their success is in any way legitimate? I doubt it.”
Gary Neville can chime in, “I know this investigation doesn’t look good for Man City but it’s Arsenal that really has to prove they deserve to be Prem champions. I just don’t know the plan at Arsenal. I don’t get the strategy, I don’t get the direction of how they’re playing. I just don’t. I’d rather watch San Marino.”
None of that can account for the fact that we’re five points clear with a game in hand, though. All it does is shift the narrative from “Man City’s players are bored after so much success” to “Man City’s players are stressed and anxious after so much scrutiny”. They’ll seek any explanation, any explanation at all to characterize Man City’s uneven form and to explain away whatever else we manage to achieve between and May. If we manage to defeat Man City in two weeks, it won’t be because of anything we did well; it will all be chalked up or written off or dismissed as a result of Man City’s predicament (which is entirely of their own making).
Well, there’s nothing we can really do about sour grapes. We can only go about our own business. If we do that, it won’t matter what mealy-mouthed excuses and criticisms come our way as this investigation unfolds. Even in one of those “normal” seasons, critics and naysayers would find ways to cast aspersions on our growth. If winning the Prem doesn’t shut them up, that’s their problem—not ours.